We first reported on the pending arrival of the Wicked Audio Solus headphones at the beginning of this year. The Solus model is a full-sized, over-the-ear, DJ-friendly headphone stamped with Wicked Audio’s flashy color and style. We noted that Wicked Audio’s Solus was looking to go head-to-head with Beats by Dr. Dre. Wicked Audio even staged a shoot-out at CES 2012, pitting the Solus against the Beats.
Now that we finally have the Solus in our hot little hands, we clearly see that, all corporate intentions aside, the only comparison between the Solus and the Beats is that both are headphones.
But that doesn’t mean the Solus isn’t worth a close look and careful listen. With a suggested price of $100 and street price of around $65, the Solus could be a steal of a deal, providing style and pricing on par with the likes of Skull Candy but with stronger audio performance. We happen to know more than a few youngsters who could go for a deal like that. Can the Solus deliver build quality and performance attractive enough to sway would-be Skull Candy customers? Read on for our take.
Out of the box
OK, so we fibbed a little bit. At least one similarity can be drawn between the Solus headphones and the Beats by Dr. Dre line: product packaging. The box the Solus arrived in is heavy-duty and gilded with colorful graphics and clever, motivational marketing-speak. Removing a full-sized sleeve reveals a flip-open box containing a molded plastic tray that holds the Solus headphones, a 6-foot extension cable, a 1/4-inch (TRS) adapter, a satin carrying case and a Wicked Audio sticker,
Our initial impression upon de-boxing the headphones was that a lot of plastic was at play. “Oh, just like some of the Beats,” you say. No, folks, not like the Beats. The Beats headphone line dresses up its plastic to make it feel glossy, resilient and, ostensibly, high quality. The Solus plastic has a much more rudimentary feel…raw, pedestrian plastic with seams and joints that feel less-than-robust, although not entirely cheap. Our other complaint is that the hinges are very loose, lending a floppy feel to the headphones that we think DJs will dislike.
Features and design
For a relatively inexpensive headphone, the Solus sports some cool features that bolster its appeal. We like the thick, braided cloth-covered cable with stout strain relief for the 1/8-inch mini-plug termination. Working our way up, we found an in-line volume control (not the kind that works with iOS or Android devices, mind you) and stereo-mono switch, which should appeal to DJs (although we think others may find it to be too large).
Although the ear cups are a bit floppy, you can rotate, fold and flip them in multiple directions. This feature gives the user a high level of positioning flexibility whether listening casually or working a DJ gig. The ear pads are made of thick but inexpensive foam that adequately cushions the ear but provides little passive-noise isolation. The headband is outfitted with a thin strip of memory foam layered underneath two metallic bands, all of which is covered in the same inexpensive faux-leather.
Inside each ear cup is a 40-millimeter driver with a manufacturer-rated sensitivity of 105 decibels, frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz and impedance of 32 ohms. The attached cord is 4 feet long, but the extension cable will boost that length up to 10 feet, leaving plenty of wiggle room in the DJ booth.
What we don’t understand is why the extension cable doesn’t match the cable that is hardwired to the headphones. The hardwired cable has a custom look whereas the extension cable looks as if it was pulled off a hardware store’s shelf of stock parts.
Durability and comfort
We are concerned about the durability of these headphones. We figure the Solus will most likely appeal to younger listeners and would-be or actively gigging DJs, both of which tend to be tough on their cans. That being the case (and the fact that Wicked Audio includes no storage case – speaking of cases), we look for a ruggedly built headphone capable of dealing with more than an average amount of stress.
The Solus isn’t as ruggedly built as we would like to see. In fact, while playing around with the various positions into which the headphones can be folded, one of the screws that holds together a hinge and ear-cup suspension popped out, and we were exerting moderate stress. The problem, as we see it, is that the screws which hold the moving plastic parts are too small and have inadequate thread depth. If you take tender-lovin’ care of your headphones, you probably have little to worry about. If you are less than gentle, though, you may run into some issues.
As for comfort, we rank the Solus as average. Nothing is particularly wrong with the headphone fit, but the ear cup padding tends to warm the ears, and the clamping force of the headphones will eventually take its toll. The headband also becomes uncomfortable after an hour or so, especially if the headphones are snug, the way we like ‘em. Both issues will be less of a problem for DJs, though.
Looking at the big, closed-back design could lead one to believe that these headphones might mercilessly batter the eardrum with mind-numbing bass, but thankfully, they do not. In fact, the Solus’ bass response is terrific. Kick drums came across with just the right level of punch, and bass guitar was reproduced with the right balance of tone and texture, each doing its part to lay a wonderful foundation for just about any track we listened to.
High frequencies were bright enough to dazzle, but not so aggressive as to have us wincing. Cymbals and brass overtones had plenty of sizzle, and vocal sibilants sounded as the studio probably intended them to, a little unnecessarily hot, but par for the course.
Although we heard no mid-bass bloat and the very top end remained in check, the whole midrange section was too laid back for our tastes. We compared the Solus to the Phiaton MS400, an admittedly more expensive headphone with fairly forward midrange character. We found that, even with our expectations tempered by our familiarity with the MS400, the Solus’ whole midsection was more recessed than we’d like. With superior amplification – the sort you get with a DJ board as opposed to a portable media device – the midrange was more exposed, but we knew we were missing inner detail.
But hold on a second. We’re talking about lack of inner detail and slightly veiled vocals on a full-sized pair of headphones with a street price around $65. Maybe we’re being a little tough on the ‘ol Solus? Yeah, probably so. But the fact that we’re not trash-talking these headphones should tell you they really do test price-to-performance expectations.
Although the Wicked Audio Solus isn’t going to put Skull Candy out of business any time soon, the headphones do deliver on Wicked Audio’s promise to deliver superior sound quality at a very attractive price, giving us the heaping spoonful of value we like so much.
We’re still concerned about the durability of these headphones, and they aren’t the most comfortable we’ve ever worn. But hey, for $60 you can buy two and have a spare as insurance. One thing is certain: We think kids and budding DJs are gonna love them.
- Excellent bass response
- Clean, articulate treble
- Cool DJ-friendly features
- Stylish and colorful look
- Questionable durability
- Tiresome after long-term wear
- Veiled midrange